Free Things To Do in San Antonio
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When the River Walk seems too busy, seek refuge from the heat and the swarms of tourists in Brackenridge Park. Its 343 acres offer much in the way of relaxation: rustic stone bridges and shaded walkways are perfect for strolling, and the Japanese Tea Garden and San Antonio Botanical Garden beckon to botanists. Dress casual so you can take advantage of Brackenridge's jogging trails, golf course and athletic fields. The park also hosts outdoor concerts in the natural Sunken Garden Theater. In and around the park, you'll also find popular attractions like the San Antonio Zoo and the Witte Museum.
Past visitors appreciated the park's train, which runs through the zoo and offers an excellent opportunity to get around the large area. They also recommend bringing some bird seed to feed the ducks that float down the San Antonio River.
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If there's one thing San Antonio is known for, it's the Alamo. Once a Franciscan mission, it was here that 189 Texans fought and lost their lives in 1836 during a 13-day siege by Mexican ruler, President Antonio López de Santa Anna. The fight sparked Texas' struggle for independence and today, the Alamo stands as a tribute to these men, displaying artifacts belonging to some of the Alamo's most famous defenders, including Davy Crockett and James Bowie. Once you've finished visiting the Alamo (either on your own or by guided tour), head around back where a small museum and research library offer further insight into the siege. Alternatively, take a pass through the gift shop, where you can find a variety of souvenirs to help you "Remember the Alamo."
Recent visitors said the site can get rather busy, so try to visit early in the morning or later in the evening. Most visitors also agree that even when it's packed with tourists, the Alamo is a must-see in San Antonio.
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Many agree that the best way to see San Antonio is by taking a stroll along the River Walk, or Paseo del Rio. San Antonio's most-visited tourist attraction meanders along the banks of the San Antonio River through the center of the city, connecting major attractions like Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio Museum of Art. Flanking the River Walk are dozens of restaurants, boutique hotels and sidewalk cafes shaded by colorful umbrellas, and street performers often fill the air with mariachi music. If you're in San Antonio in January, don't miss the River Walk Mud Festival and Parade, during which the river is drained and the muddy riverbed becomes the prime venue for celebration.
If you want to see the River Walk from a different vantage point, try a boat tour. These 35-minute tours, offered by Rio San Antonio Cruises, take visitors on a leisurely ride down the winding river. Tickets cost $8.25 for adults and $2 for children. Many say the boat rides are a must. You could also opt to catch a Rio Taxi, which costs a bit less and makes continuous stops along the river.
- #4View all Photos#4 in San AntonioChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you're touring San Antonio, the San Fernando Cathedral is hard to miss. Still an active house of worship, the cathedral is one of the oldest in the country, constructed in 1738 by colonists from the Canary Islands. It was here that Wild West legend James Bowie was married and that General Antonio López de Santa Anna indicated his plans for the Alamo. Some believe that many heroes from the Alamo (including Davy Crockett) are buried here in an unmarked tomb. And despite enduring damage from a fire in the late 19th century, the San Fernando Cathedral maintains its antique appearance, beckoning you to tour its breathtaking interior.
While the interior is open during the day, recent travelers insist that you visit the church at night to take advantage of the free light show. Every Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9, 9:30 and 10 p.m., entrancing images are projected onto the building facade, delighting past visitors to San Antonio. You'll want to double-check the Main Plaza website to make sure the show is occurring.
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Aside from the Alamo, this is where all of San Antonio's historic missions – Mission San José, Mission Concepción, Mission Espada and Mission San Juan – are located, making this a must-see site for history buffs. Established along the San Antonio River in the 18th century by Franciscan friars, the missions stand as a tribute to Spain's success in spreading Catholicism through the Southwest and into Mexico. Each mission (located approximately 3 miles apart from one another) is beautiful in its own way, from the undisturbed frescos at Mission Concepción to the Romanesque arches of Mission San Juan.
Recent visitors suggest taking advantage of the free tours offered by the park rangers, noting how much more they learned during their visit. You can also hike or bike the Mission Trail (there are also roads for visitors with cars) past each structure to learn about how the friars lived side-by-side with Native Americans. Scattered around the missions are remnants of granaries, workshops and water mills.
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